So it's come to this. Three more games, and the Predators must rely on the Blues flubbing at least one of their final games in order to secure the Central Division. That and they probably need to go 3-0-0 this week to sneak past them in the process. With Colorado, Minnesota, and Dallas on the docket, this will be no easy task.
On February 24th, the last time the Preds met the Avs, they won 5-2 in dominating fashion. Pekka Rinne didn't have to do much, making 18 saves on 20 shots. On offense, Filip Forsberg and Craig Smith scored, among others. Eric Nystrom had a shorthanded empty netter. Everything was great. After that, the team would go on to lose 6-straight games in what would arguably be the worst stretch of the year. And with injuries and poor outings over the month of March, it's never really been the same team since.
The Avs have since gone 10-7-1, and briefly put themselves back into the Wild Card chase. They are officially eliminated from playoff contention now, but they certainly got closer to the post-season than anyone thought they would at the All-Star break.
The Preds can't take this team lightly, like they did at times with the Stars. And the Canucks. And the Flames. The defensive giveaways and sloppy neutral play we saw against those teams won't work against the Avalanche either. With four 20 goal scorers in Jarome Iginla (26), Gabriel Landeskog (23), Alex Tanguay (22) and Matt Duchene (21), the Avs can counter quickly if we choose to let them. They only score 2.57 goals/game, good for 23rd in the league, but having seen Iginla score plenty of goals against us, this team is dangerous. Nathan MacKinnon is no slouch either, though his numbers are disappointing this year.
If you noticed anything at all on Saturday, you noticed the return of the top line. Forsberg-Ribs-Neal was in full force and it was a sight to see. There was a stretch late in the 3rd period (before the tying goal) where the top line was flat out killing it in the offensive zone. For somewhere around 2 minutes, they pressured and possessed the puck, working the boards, creating time and space, and dishing sick passes to keep the puck in the zone. If they had scored during that shift, it may have been their best shift of the season... and maybe it still was. They would eventually get the game tying goal with the extra attacker a few minutes later, but that shift showed me that the 1st line magic is still there... and they are gonna need it.
For those interested, the top line's possession numbers agreed with what our eyeballs showed us. Even-strength SAT for the game: Ribs at 74%, Forsberg at 70%, and Neal at 69%. Solid.
Another thing you may have noticed on Saturday was the "benching" of Cody Franson. Just over 12 minutes of ice-time, only 3 of which came in the 3rd period. For everyone wanting to blame the past few weeks on Franson, Coach Lavy may be listening. It is clear that defensively, as a group, we have not been as solid as we were in the first half of the season. But it certainly can't be all on Franson. Missing Weber is a part of that, Ryan Ellis returning from injury is a part of that, Seth Jones is a part of that, Everyone contributes... some by their presence, others by their absence. Franson looks slower than an asthmatic snail and can't seem to maintain chemistry with anyone. If all he is going forward is an insurance policy, I am fine with that. If we have to rely on him to get top line minutes? Good-bye playoffs.
Reasons To Watch
HJN is back.
(FYI: this gif works best with Andrew WK playing in the background)
The Important Details
8 p.m. Central time puck drop, on FS-TN and 102.5 The Game